Thursday, April 7, 2016

Umstead 100 2016: Family and Friends who are Basically Family

With a few days to recover and reflect about last weekend’s Umstead 100, I’m still buzzing with joy about how the race went. It was a long road to the start line. The real work of running 100 miles happens in training. As Muhammad Ali once said,  “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

For me, the work began after Umstead last year as I dove headlong into committing to eating well and training with some intention. I’ve written about this before, so there’s not much to say here other than: Training pays off. The proof is in the result of hard work. But, the most important thing to remember is that no matter how hard you want to work, you can’t do it alone. Ginger, was steadfast in her support of my training and she is the best partner anyone could ask for (Thanks, darlin’!). Ginger, Jordan, Brett, Royce, Josh, Sean, Chris, and all of my other training partners were key in my arriving at the starting line ready to dance.

The Training is Done. Now is the time on Sprockets When We Dance!

Brett, Royce, Sean and I left BBurg on Friday morning and rolled down to Umstead to check in, get our bibs, and rest up before the race.

Sean was a huge help because we knew we could count on him to make sure Ginger, Lois (Team Mom of the Year), Michelle, Jill, Chris, Julia, Josh Starner, and the rest of our crazy crew would be able to get all set up in the morning. Friday night, I turned off my phone, climbed into my sleeping bag in the cabin, and drifted off for some quality sleep. I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday morning, got dressed and ready to roll. Ginger was there to see me off and make sure I everything that I needed. 

My A Goal was just to finish no matter what the time. I had given myself some follow-on goals and created pace charts to give myself a plan to shoot for prior to the race. Secondary goals included a time PR, Sub 21, and Sub 20. 19:55 was my reasonable “stretch goal” for the race, and going sub 19 was a goal that I didn’t really share with anyone, but it would have represented the elusive “perfect race” that we all hope to have one day. 

I began the day shooting for the 19:55 pace splits and figured I could adjust from there. Taking longer would mean letting those splits pass without worry because the A goal was to finish. Going faster would basically just mean running hard on Laps 7 and 8. 

Here’s the story of the race with 19:55 pace splits to guide you.

Just before 6 am, Josh, Royce, Brett, and I went up to the lodge to pound some coffee before we to set off on the adventure. Josh and Royce would be going for for their first 100 mile finishes, and they both SMASHED it! So proud of these guys! 

Lap 1: Goal Time: 2:10
Brett and I worked our way up to the front of the field so we could move easily in the opening miles. We found ourselves running comfortably around a 9 minute pace and just enjoyed the first hour of running in the dark with a bunch of cool people. About halfway through the first lap, we were running in a pack of about 14 people a few minutes behind the leaders. It was so fun as we traded stories and chatted with Justin, Erin, and some other folks we hooked up with on the trail. At one point, Brett turned to me with a big smile to comment on how fun it was to be rolling into Aid 1 in a big pack. It was really a nice opening lap. We cruised though Aid 1, filled bottles and said a big thank you to the amazing volunteers who were there to help us. Thanks again, folks! The volunteers at Umstead are hands down THE BEST! 

We came into our crew spot at the Start/Finish to the sound of Sean blasting away on the Vuvuzela. I was happy to see Ginger and Lois, and they were like a NASCAR crew (as always) getting me what I needed for the next lap.

I was feeling strong and had the feeling that today was going to be a good day.

Actual Time: 1:58

Lap 2: Goal Time: 2:10
Lap 2 was really more of the same. Brett and I ran along together chatting and enjoying the day. The rain hadn’t started yet, but we knew we were going to get rained on at some point. I’m not really sure when the rain came, but I didn’t care. Rain doesn’t bother me while running. Brett likes it too, so we were happy. We did feel bad for the crew who would have to suffer through a rainy day. Sorry, guys. Thanks!! 

We cruised through Aid 1 and made our way back to the S/F to see our family at the crew spot. I could see a little concern on their faces as we came in ahead of where we had planned in terms of pace. But we were running easy and feeling strong. My friend Star (an incredible ultra runner and Badwater Finisher) had sent me a message the day before telling me to “make some magic happen today” and I felt like it was the perfect day to do just that. Thanks for the encouragement, Star! Lap 2 was another success. I was banking time without burning matches. The training was paying off.

Actual Time: 2:03

Lap 3: Goal Time: 2:15
Brett and I stayed together going out on Lap 3 after Ginger had gotten me set up with fluids and fuel on the way out. Somewhere on this lap, the rain started. I turned to Brett and said something about this being perfect “Cross Country Weather, which is what he calls cool, rainy days. It really was. The only downside was that it made the band aids come off my chest and that means only one thing: bloody nipples if you don’t shed your shirt. So, I did. That meant the world would be subjected to me running shirtless all day. Sorry about that. 

We kept cruising and enjoying the day. Brett and I talked a little about our pace and made sure that we were running smart. We walked the hills and just took what the course gave us, which meant that we came into the S/F ahead of our projected pace again. No problem. We were feeling good. Ginger, Lois, and the rest of the crew helped me with a lightening fast sock change to avoid blisters. Did I mention how awesome our crew was? Here's photographic evidence showing two of the most amazing women in the world hanging out all day supporting us. 

How can you not feel better after seeing those two smiling faces and the motivational sign?  

I had been feeling a hot spot develop and want to be pro-active. Jordan had reminded me before he went and crushed GDR that a successful long race was only possible if you took care of yourself early. So I did. After another quick sock change, we took off on Lap 4 still on pace for a magic day.
Actual Time: 2:07

Lap 4: Goal Time: 2:25
Lap 4 was where I started to ease off the throttle. I wanted to make sure I still had gas in the tank to be running after mile 50. But, I still wanted to make sure I did the first 50 in a good time. Brett and I ran together for most of the lap. About half way around the loop we saw Dan Lenz in the distance. Dan is a big dog. He’s also incredibly nice. He is someone I look up to because, much like Jordan, he is an elite ultra runner who always has a smile and a kind word for a fellow runner. When we saw Dan in the distance, Brett and I had a small moment of panic. I said, “Brett, Um. We might be messing up here. What are we doing catching Dan Lenz??!!” When we pulled up next to him, he was, true to form, smiling and encouraging us. He assured us that we were OK. He was out there to give himself a “gut check” and was basically running off the couch. We chatted with him for a minute, and then he said, “You’re doing great, brother. Go kill it!” If you happen to read this, Dan. Thank you. And know that it's really cool that you're willing to go give yourself a "gut check" at a race like this. Your humble, encouraging manner represents all that is right about ultra running. 

Anyway, Brett and I heeded Dan's advice, and got back to work throwing coal into the locomotive and driving the pain train toward the halfway point of the race. 

Actual Time: 2:27
50 Mile Split: 8:37- A 50 Mile PR

Lap 5: Goal Time: 2:30
The start of Lap 5 meant picking up a pacer. All day, I told myself: Just run a strong first 50, and then all you have to do is give 4 of your friends a tour of the course. It’ll be a party. That’s how I tried to treat the race. I was starting to feel the fatigue set in. My legs were beginning to ache a bit, but I knew I had plenty of gas in the tank. 

When I came back to the crew spot from the S/F, Ginger, Lois, and Jordan got me quickly covered in sun screen (the rain stopped and it was getting hot out), and then sent me out to start the second half of the race.

I picked up Chris Larson for Lap 5. Chris is such a talented runner and he really made all the difference in terms of pacing me to a good finish. Brett and I had set points along the course where we would begin walking a hill and where we would start running again. Brett had set these points two years ago when he ran the race for the first time. Brett’s plan was also pivotal in my successful day. Well, his plan and all of the fun I had running with him for the first 50 miles. Anyway, Chris did a perfect job of keeping me moving well. He pushed me just enough, but never let me go too hard. A few times he told me to dial it back when I was feeling good and running too fast. When, I got lazy, he pushed me too. 

I have to mention the AS volunteers again here. At both aid stations, they were so great at getting us food and keeping us moving. Big props to Karl Mundt, who was working the halfway AS. He was a huge help all day. When I came back into the S/F Ginger was there with a big smile and advice about what to eat and getting me moving. Lois had a huge smile that really lifted my spirits. Seeing Jordy, Kristin, Linda Vick, and Jill having fun and generously giving us their time and encouragement really makes running easy. I came through lap 5 feeling strong and happy to have a new 100 K PR in the books too (11:04). The crew was always there to pick up our spirits with all kinds of shenanigans.

Including some questionable distribution of Body Glide:

 And lots of Vuvuzela encouragement: 

Actual Time: 2:26- 100K PR (11:04)

Lap 6: Goal Time: 2:35
Ginger sent Chris out with me on Lap 6 again. He was such a great pacer that I felt a little greedy keeping him for a second lap. But, I was SO happy to have his advice and company along the way. I don’t remember a lot about this lap. Things are a little fuzzy. I know I was feeling good and still thinking about a strong finish. Chris did a great job of keeping me in the moment and keep me focused on the current mile.

Photo Credit: John Foote. Thanks for sharing John.  

He didn’t let me think about what might be: good or bad. He kept me in the present. Thank you, Chris. We came back into the S/F with an almost identical lap split!

Actual Time: 2:26

Lap 7: Goal Time: 2:55
Before I left on lap 7, I wanted to put on some fresh compression shorts, socks, and a shirt because I knew the temp was going to drop. Also, I wanted to clean the salt off of me again to avoid chaffing. Our crew did an incredible job of getting me changed and moving quickly. Then, Ginger took me out for Lap 7. If you’ve never had your spouse or partner pace you in the late stages of an ultra, you gotta do it. There’s something really special about being out there testing your limits knowing that your best friend in the world is there to get your back and lift your spirits. I was really starting to tire out on this lap, but Ginger kept my spirits high, and kept telling that I was doing what needed to be done. We talked about all kinds of things, and I loved every second of it.  We saw my friend Nelson working the halfway AS, and seeing him lifted my sprits greatly. He is an amazing runner, and an incredibly nice person. Linda Vick was there working too, and she was such a huge help. 

The lap with Ginger really was a blast. She’s such a talented runner, an incredible crew chief, and I highly recommend her as a pacer. She’s also the best partner in the world, but too bad for all of you: She’s mine J  Thanks for everything, Ginger! Remember it was Lap 7 of Umstead last year when we talked about what might be possible if I took things a little more seriously, so this race is as much yours as it is mine. I couldn’t do it without you!

Actual Time: 2:43

Lap 8: Goal Time 2:55:
Lap 8. What to say about lap 8? Looking at the numbers, you’d think I’d want to say bad things about it. Lap 8 is where the dream of the “perfect race” really died. Coming into the S/F at the end of Lap 7, I knew I was dealing with an almost empty gas tank. I tried to get myself pumped up and ignore the reality that I was running out of coal to throw in the hopper. I still felt very good about my day. I knew I had run a smart race and measured my effort enough to make sub 20 and a huge PR happen. But, I also knew that running much on this lap was not likely. In an effort to pump myself up I passed through the crew spot and told Sean (my awesome Lap 8 pacer) to “pack his coffin because we were gonna burn the ship” but that was not to be. Well, Ok, we did actually burn the ship and empty the tank. But, it was more like starting a fire in the Smoky mountains in April than burning a Christmas tree. Lap 8 was a smoldering slog that saw us walk way more than run. I was fighting some serious nausea and spent the whole lap trying not to puke. Sean told me stories, pushed me, cajoled me, and tried to get me to run. 

But, I knew the smart thing was to hike  and make sure I finished this thing as strongly as possible. I was content. I knew I was going to finish sub 20. I knew I was solidly in the top 20, which is something that up until that day had only ever been a dream. Really! Me, finishing in the top 20 at a classic 100 is a dream I never thought I’d accomplish. But, I had done the work. I was out there in the dark, in the snow, in the bad weather when no one was watching all winter preparing to dance under the lights in April. And, Ali is right. The fight is won or lost in training. I had won my own battle with the clock on the day that mattered most to me. 

Through all of the Lap 8 walking, I promised myself I would run the last 3/4 of a mile strong. I promised myself to save enough to finish strong and then soak in the finish line. And, that I did.

When I saw Ginger at the finish, it was amazing. Easily in the top 10 happy moments of my life.

Actual Time: 3:31

Actual Finish: 19:44:52  13th overall!!

Actual Avg Pace: 11:50

I was wasted when I crossed the line. Jordan was there to capture the moment  when I was happier to see Brett than I've ever been. 

And when I flopped on the ground to stretch. Notice the "barf bucket" that just happened to be next to me. I didn't need it. 

The tank was bone dry. I did what I set out to do. I ran hard, and I ran smart. I measured my effort enough to be able to empty the tank completely and still make it to the finish. Finishing 13th overall was such an amazing topper to a great day.

I was also able to finish in time to see Brett still up and awake. 
Brett finished in 18:26, which was a new PR for him. Michele paced him for a blistering fast lap 8 and 9th Place Overall!!!

Great job, buddy!! Thanks for everything.

Royce was rock steady all day and finished his first 100 in 21:16!!! Amazing. So proud of him!!

Josh also had an amazing race. He ran steady all day and finished in 22:35 for his first 100 mile finish! 

Great job, brother. Proud of you. 

Final Thoughts:
I managed to keep my aid station time to less than 30 minutes, which is pretty efficient for a 100 miler where you see your crew 7 times and pass through 15 manned aid stations. I'm quite pleased with that. I owe the volunteers and my crew a huge thank you! 

Thanks again to Rhonda, the amazing RD of Umstead and all of the volunteers who generously helped us all reach our goals on Saturday. 

I want to say a big thank you to my family and friends who supported me on race day and in the lead up to the race. I couldn’t have done it without you all.

The next big adventure is Grindstone 100 in October. There will be lots of adventures along the way though, so if you like Bad Ideas, stay tuned. There are lots of stories to come. 

Photo Credits: Jordan Chang, Kristen Chang, Lois Kelly, and the nice guy who took the group photo for us. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Umstead 2016: Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends

It's almost that time again. Saturday morning at 6 am, I'll set off with some of my best friends on another grand adventure: Umstead 100. I completed the race last year in 22 hours and 51 minutes, which was a solid 100 mile PR. As Ginger was pacing me out on the course last year, we talked about how cool it would be to really commit to a year of training that included a good diet to see what I was really capable of. So, I spent the last year (with some serious support from Ginger) cleaning up my diet and really training hard. Along the way, I dropped 25 pounds, picked up a marathon PR (3:09 at Richmond in November), snagged a podium spot (and a shiny new 50K PR: 4 hours) at the New River 50K, and just generally committed to having fun on long runs to get ready for Umstead this year.

In my training for Umstead last year, I battled the flu and a injured ankle but I stilled logged 422 miles with 27, 000 feet of elevation gain.

I will toe the line at Umstead on Saturday with 683 miles and 77, 000 feet of gain on my legs. I've rested well the last two weeks and I feel like I have a little of the snap back in them that helped me run quickly in the fall.

I feel better prepared for this race than any race I have run before. Ginger has helped me eat well, train hard, and enjoy life. My friends have motivated me to spend lots of long days in the mountains and pick up some leg speed around town. As Brett likes to say: The Stoke is REAL! I am excited. I'm looking forward to watching Royce and Josh crush their first 100. I know Brett is going to blister the course and do great. I'm looking forward to seeing what is possible. And I am grateful for all the support I have received this year and will have on Saturday.

What are my goals? First, to finish. Even if it takes 29 hours and 59 minutes. I don't care. I am going to just focus on experiencing the day. Every 100 miler is special and unpredictable. You can train hard, but you never know what will happen in a 100 miles. It is, after all, a long way. So, I'm going to have fun. I want to enjoy the day with my friends and family. I also want to make them all proud of me for doing what I set out to do. Second, I want to see what's possible. I will run smart, but I will run hard. When it gets hard, I will Choose Joy and remember that I am privileged to be able to even attempt a 100 mile race. I will run to honor those who can't. And, I will remember to just let the training pay off and keep moving forward no matter what. I'll keep my Always Brothers family on my mind, and remember that we are always out there doing what we can to honor those who've going before us.

Before I wrap this up I want to say thanks to everyone coming out to help. Ginger, Lois, Sean, Jordan, Kristin, Chris, Julia, Jill, Nelson, Linda, and Starner. We couldn't do it without you. Ginger, none of this would be possible without your support. Thank you!!!

 On Saturday, I'm going to embrace the journey, enjoy the suffering, and have a blast no matter what.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Holiday Lake 50K++ 2016 Edition

The first real race of 2016 is in the books: Holiday Lake 50K++. I missed this one last year because I had the flu. The ForReal flu. Like the sickest I've ever been in my life flu. The flu that lets you know what it really means to have the flu. It was the first time in my life that I had even been unable to care for myself. Terrible. So, last year I was there just to crew Ginger and the rest of the gang. This year, though, I managed to avoid getting sick before the race. So, here's the story:

I was, as Quenton Cassidy the protagonist of Once a Runner would say, "running through" Holiday Lake. That means that I did not take a break in my training or "taper" to prepare for it. HL was a step on the path towards my goal race for the Spring: Umstead 100. I did, though, want to have a good showing. My plan was simple: Go as hard as I could on lap 1 without emptying the tank too early. My goal was to push hard-- but not too hard-- and then burn the ships and leave nothing in the tank over the last miles. That's pretty much how it went.

We drove up to Appomattox Friday evening when we all got off work, picked up our packets, hung out with the VT Ultra Crew, and then settled into the Super 8 for a great night's sleep. Chris, Julia, Ginger, and I shared one room. Royce, Sean, and Brett shared the other. Sean annoyed Royce with his snoring (Nice work, Sean). We awoke to some ridiculous temps Saturday morning. It was in the low teens at the start. We hung out at the 4H camp lodge for a bit drinking coffee, making last minute plans, and celebrating Valentine's Day StewartStyle.

It would be Sean and Dave's first ultra, so they were pumped. Ginger was psyched to get some HL redemption and beat her time from last year.

From the gun, Brett, Chris, and I went out at our planned pace of 8:30ish miles until we hit the first creek crossing around mile 7. The water was COLD. It really wasn't too bad though. I was happy to be wearing my La Sportiva Ultra Raptors, which drain water very well. Even better if you just float over the creek, which I demonstrate below:

After you get through the creek, there is a nice gentle uphill that lets you warm your legs and feet back up. I had to stop for a quick "nature break" so I waited for a downhill section where I could make up the time Chris and Brett would gain during a 1 minute stop. That meant mile 7 would be sub 6 for me to catch up. It hurt, but I made contact with the boys and off we went. After few miles on the jeep road, we turned back onto single track where Chris aka "The Conductor" was shoveling coal into the hopper and pushing the throttle forward on the pain train. Miles 5-13 were all sub 8.

That's how it went for a few miles until Chris put in a little dig and tightened the screws. He managed to gap Brett and me, and it took us until the 16 mile turnaround to bring him back.  Julia was a rockstar at the turnaround point, and she got us in and out quickly as we all grabbed fresh hand bottles. I had prepped a bottle with 3 gels in the pocket and tailwind, which I was grateful to see was not frozen. If it had been, I would have been in trouble because I was counting on those calories for the second lap. We left the turnaround with an average pace of 7:59 for the first 16 miles. Pretty much exactly what I was hoping for.

We pushed on together through the next 5 miles or so, and then Chris had some stomach pain and had to ease off the pace. When Brett began to amp of the pace again, and I had to let him go around mile 22. I had one of those conversations with myself about embracing the suffering and kept charging on towards my goal of leaving nothing on the table and finishing the race well. I kept reminding myself of the blog that Brett has shared with us on Friday: Sabrina Little's advice from her dominating performance at Rocky Raccoon 100 last weekend was the refrain in my head for the last 10 miles. "Choose Joy" and be a "There You Are Person" kept me in the right headspace as I buried the needle and ran as hard as I could. I said hi to all the runners I saw heading the other way. Mile 25 was the toughest mile for me, but somewhere around there Jonathan, Butch, and some of the other VT Ultra crew lifted my sprits by yelling for me to keep pushing.

I went through the creek for the second time, and felt my shoes freeze almost instantly when I came out. Instead of dwelling on that, I "Chose Joy" and embraced the suffering. From there, I pretty much just emptied the tank and kept digging. I looked at my watch at mile 31 and saw that I was going to have to push hard to try to get in under 4:30. I dropped a 6:16 pace for the last downhill half mile on the road, but missed 4:30 by 1 minute and 3 seconds. 4:15 had been a "Dream Race" goal and 4:30 had been my realistic but pushing it goal. All in all, I was quite pleased with 4:31:03. Here's the Strava file:

I finished 19th overall and 2nd in my age group. Not bad for "running through" the race. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that finishing in the top 20 at a Horton race was not something I ever dreamed possible until a few months ago. The fields are always DEEP at his races. I am deeply in the debt of Ginger for all of her support and help with eating a healthy diet. She understands my need to explore what I am capable of, and she supports me in all the miles I'm putting in-- and that means a lot. I also owe Jordan, Brett, Royce, Chris, and Sean a big debt for training with me and helping me realize my potential. I also want to thank Jonathan and Butch for all the encouragement out on the course. It was great seeing you guys out there!

All in all it was a great day. I'm proud of our little community. Everyone runs hard while being nice. I can't think of a better way to be than that.

Ginger had a huge PR on the course and finished 24th Female at 5:57:31. I am so proud of her!

Brett finished 17th overall with a huge PR
Chris finished 31st overall at 4:45:40
Royce smashed his HL PR and came in 40th overall at 4:56:50
Sean crushed his first Ultra coming in at 5:04:56-- Congrats, brother. You got skilZ!

The VT Ultra Crew dominated the head of the race as usual:
Darren Thomas snagged 3rd overall
Mike Jones was 8th overall
Leif was 9th overall
Henry snagged 12th
Hannah was 3rd female and scored a solid course PR.

Big ups to Josh Starner who rocked out his first 50K race at 6:19:22. Congrats!

Next up is a bunch more miles to get ready for Umstead. Training is going well so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of February brings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Starting off 2016

I kicked off serious Umstead 2016 training on Jan 1 after taking a couple of down weeks at the end of December. The new year started with some work on cleaning up the diet and sticking a little closer to the Whole 30 principles, which I think went pretty well. So far, I've been feeling strong in training, and I've been having a lot of fun out on the trails.

The first race of the year (Lakeside Trail Race 15 miler) was  blast. Ginger, Sean, Josh, Jill, Chris, Julia, Lou and I had a blast on the trails.

The race went well for everyone. I was able to take 18 minutes off my time from last year and come in at 2:03, which was good for 2nd in my AG and 10th overall. It's nice to start the year with a top 10 finish. Mostly, I was happy to have a good day on the trails and run hard for the full 15.

I've been averaging about 59 miles a week so far for the year, and I've been able to put in some solid climbing (35K feet, which is more than double last year at this point). I think the climbing is building good strength for the Umstead laps. I've also logged 303 miles so far. Last year, I was at 220 at this point.

The first real long run of the year was the VT Ultra Fat Ass 50K at Pandapas. Brett, Jordy, Dave, and I ran together and got it done in a little over 6 hours.

Ginger and I have mixed in some good hikes to the Cascades with the buddies to take in the frozen scenery.

A huge snowstorm has made things interesting, and it turned the first Catawba RunAround of the year into a real sufferfest. We began the day at the gas station parking lot because the Dragon's Tooth lot was covered in ice. Jody, Brett, Matt, Josh, and I set to work on a long day of slogging through the snow.

The technical parts of the first climb were fairly clear, so we made decent time. But, other parts slowed us down quite a bit.

Climbing Macafee's Knob went really well, and we made up some time on the packed down or thawed sections, and made the summit quickly.

We got through some of the more runnable sections in good time.

After Tinker's we thought we might make it all the way around before dark.

But that was not to be. North Mountain was an epic slog. The waist deep snow drifts and seemingly endless sawtooth climbs along the ridge really took a toll on us as the sun quickly dropped behind the ridge.

We ended up back at the gas station parking lot a little over 11 hours later. Not bad for 35 snowy miles. Here's link to the Strava file:

I thought this was a great way to kick off the week of my 43rd birthday. This run was my 43rd Ultra. I didn't plan it that way, but sometimes things just work out right.

We were all a little scarred by the adventure, but I think it's safe to say we are ready for the next CRA. Here's hoping for less snow in February.

We rolled into February with some decent runs at Pandapas and last weekend we hit up some miles from Mountain Lake to Barney's Wall and the Cascades and back.

The boys and I have had some great adventures already this year.

And we are just getting started. This weekend we all have Holiday Lake 50K on the books. I know Sean will do great with his first 50K. Royce and Brett are ready to smash the course, and I know Ginger is going to exceed her expectations and have a great day. Just look at her smile when she came across the line last year.

And, no February post would be complete without a big shout out to everyone who made my birthday special. Ginger rallied the gang to set up an awesome birthday party. She's really the BEST!! We had a lot of good food, (She got me a birthday pizza from Benny's again, people brought donuts, peanut butter balls, and Smores), and we introduced Christmas Tree Burning to our Blacksburg friends. THIS is a FIRE:

I'm looking forward to a great year with my awesome wife and amazing friends.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Looking Back to Look Forward: Taking My Own Advice

As 2015 comes to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the year of running (and life) and think about goals and plans for 2016. It starts before 2015 though. When I ran my first "Ultra" in 2008 (The Mystery Mountain Marathon put on by the Georgia Ultra Trail Running Society) I never really thought I'd get into running as a thing. I was just there to hang out with Reeve and spend some time on the trails with him. He'd gotten me into distance running as a cool way to see the mountains. We went out for long days together to just explore. It was a lot of fun, but I hadn't considered myself someone who would make running a major part of my life. I was into climbing, kayaking, and riding bikes. But, Reeve wanted to run a lot, and I wanted to hang out with him, so that's what we did.

Fast forward to 2010 when my Marine buddies and I decided to put on 100 Miles for Swisher.  I started running every day and figured I'd run a 100 miles to honor my friend and that would be it. Along the way, I ran my first 50K, 50 miler, and eventually in August of 2011 my first 100. I was hooked.

Even then, though, racing wasn't really on my radar. Running was just a way to get out in the mountains and explore. I never thought I'd be fast enough to really race. The following year, I ran Rocky Raccoon 100 and still I didn't see myself racing. I just didn't think I was "built for racing" and just decided it was a fun way to meet people and challenge myself. I had always seen myself as someone who's just good at enduring. Here's the "life" part. I had gotten in the habit of encouraging people and telling them they could do things they didn't think they could do. But, I wasn't really taking that advice. I was just running and doing things that I liked because they were hard. I didn't think I was capable of going "fast" on those long runs. It really wasn't until Umstead last year that I began to see the potential that I wasn't seeing in myself.

Ginger was a huge part of helping me unlock this and access my own advice. Jordan and Brett were also instrumental in helping me push past the limitations I was placing on myself.

Ginger and I decided to do the "Whole 30" diet in April, and that's when things really started to change for me in terms of running. I wrote about that here. 2015 was an incredible year in terms of racing for me. Here's a little recap of my gradual progression from "happy to finish" to "exploring what's possible" in terms of running.

January- Lakeside Trail Race 15 Miler: 10th Overall 2:21
February- Dirty Double Trail Marathon: 11th Overall 5:11
March- Umstead 100: 55th Overall 22:51 (Over a 2 hour PR)
June- Eastern Divide 50K: 14th Overall 5:23
August- Draper Mile: 5:16 (huge mile PR)
September- Iron Mountain 30 Miler: 7th Overall 4:59
                   Barkley Fall Classic: 22nd Overall 10:49
October-New River Trail 50K: 2nd Overall 4:00 (50K PR)
              Pacing Reggie and to the boys at the Always Brothers 100 (the night after New River)
November: Richmond Marathon: 135th Overall, 11th in AG 3:09 (BQ and 26.2 PR)
December: Frosty 5K 6th Overall, 1st in AG, 19:03 (Fastest 5K since 1999)

Getting a huge PR at Umstead and breaking 24 hours was a big day for me, but the biggest highlight for me in terms of my own running this year was New River Trail 50K.

I never thought I would find myself on the podium at an Ultra. I just didn't think it was possible for me. But, here's the thing about taking your own advice: You gotta do it. Ginger, Brett, and Jordan really helped me see that I'm capable of more than I think. Chris Larson really pushed me that day to run hard, and my friend Pawel has helped me immensely in terms of learning to run smart races. I am grateful for that support. It really carried over at Richmond where I was able to smash my 26.2 PR and run well under my BQ time requirement.

Better than all of those results, though, was watching Ginger have a great year running. She hit a huge Marathon PR at Richmond, and she had a great race at Eastern Divide. She's running so strong and it's been fun to see.

Right along with that was watching my friends achieve their goals. I was able to see Jordan have a great race at San Diego 100 and help Nelson gut out an amazing finish at Eastern States 100.

Sean and Amy ran their first marathons at Richmond, and seeing them accomplish this goal was awesome.  Sharing the trails with my friends all year long was such a gift.

Finishing the Catawba Runaround with Jordan was another major highlight.

Hanging out with Ginger at races and on the trails is just about my favorite thing to do.

Exploring the mountains with Josh, Jordy, Brett, Pawel, Sean, Royce, Robbie, Chris, and the rest of the crew makes living in Blacksburg even better than it would be otherwise (and that's pretty damn good).

So, what did I learn from a year of racing and watching my friends push themselves? We can ALL do more than we think we can. I'll take that lesson with me into 2016.

I've set a few goals for 2016 in terms of racing. I plan to race a little bit less in order to focus on a couple of goal events. #1 will be Umstead 100 in April. I'd like to improve my time there. #2 is Grindstone 100 in October. I'll do Lakeside in January because it's fun. Holiday Lake 50K in February because it's now a fun family tradition, and Eastern Divide 50K in June because it's probably my favorite 50K. But, all of those races will be done with an eye towards my two goal races. Grindstone has been become a special race to me after pacing last year and working an aid station (Reddish Knob Rave Station with Captain Jordan Chang) this year. It's a Hardrock 100 qualifier and that's a serious bucket list race for me. I hope to make to to the starting line of Umstead and Grindstone healthy and well-trained. I plan to take my own advice and believe that I can go faster than I once thought I could.

But, I'll remember the what my friend Doug Geiger said about white water kayaking back in the day: "It's just a hobby. Like model trains or something."

Running is, after all, just a hobby. It doesn't pay any bills. The results don't matter in the grand scheme of things. But it IS an important way to stay healthy and share new experiences with Ginger.

It's also a great way to build relationships with my friends, give back to my community, and challenge myself. So, I'll keep that in mind. Family will always come first, and friends will always be a major priority. Running will just be what it always is: a way to explore and be part of an amazing community.

 So, as 2015 ends I'll go into 2016 grateful for Ginger's support (thanks for encouraging me and helping me be a better person and a better runner).

I'll also be  thankful that I have an amazing group of friends to share the trail with.

Happy Running my friends.